seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Piaras Béaslaí, Author, Playwright & Politician

Piaras Béaslaí, author, playwright, biographer and translator, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), fights in the Easter Rising and serves as a member of Dáil Éireann, dies on June 22, 1965.

Béaslaí is born Percy Frederick Beazley in Liverpool, England on February 15, 1881 to Irish Catholic parents, Patrick Langford Beazley, originally from Killarney, County Kerry, and Nannie Hickey, from Newcastle West, County Limerick. During his summer holidays in his younger years, he spends time in Ireland (near Kenmare, County Kerry) with his paternal uncle, Father James Beazley, where he begins to learn the Irish language. He is educated at St. Francis Xavier’s College in Liverpool, where he develops his keen interest in Irish. By the time he is aged 17 his Irish proficiency is exceptional.

After finishing his education at St. Francis Xavier’s, Béaslaí is encouraged to begin Irish poetry by Tadhg Ó Donnchadha. He follows his father’s footsteps into journalism, initially working for the local Wallasey News. In 1906 he moves to Dublin, and within a year becomes a freelance writer for the Irish Peasant, Irish Independent, Freeman’s Journal and Express. He is offered a permanent position with Independent Newspapers, as assistant leader writer and special reporter for the Dublin Evening Telegraph. He writes regularly for the Freeman’s Journal, including a daily half-column in Irish.

After his early introduction to Irish poetry Béaslaí becomes involved in staging Irish-language amateur drama at the Oireachtas annual music festival. He begins to write both original works and adaptations from foreign languages. One of these works, Eachtra Pheadair Schlemiel (1909), is translated from German into Irish.

Later Béaslaí continues to write poetry, such as the collection “Bealtaine 1916” agus Dánta Eile (1920), and short stories such as “Earc agus Aine agus Scéalta Eile.” Between 1913 and 1939 he writes many plays, including Cliuche Cartaí (1920), An Sgaothaire agus Cúig Drámaí Eile (1929), An Danar (1929) and An Bhean Chródha (1931). He writes two books about his comrade Michael Collins: Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland (2 volumes, 1926) and Michael Collins: Soldier and Statesman (1937).

Béaslaí’s works revolve around the Irish language movement and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), focusing on the independence struggle of Ireland. He writes about these topics in newspapers such as the Standard and The Kerryman. His most notable work in newspapers during his later life includes his contribution to the Irish Independent, which publishes a section called ‘A Veteran Remembers’ five days a week from May 16 to June 1957, as well as a weekly section called ‘Moods and Memories’ on Wednesdays from May 24, 1961 to June 16, 1965.

One of the awards Béaslaí gains during his career is on August 14, 1928, a gold medal at the Tailteann Literary Awards. While in Dublin, he joins the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League, and after he moves to Ireland he begins using the Irish form of his name, Piaras Béaslaí, rather than Percy Beazley.

Béaslaí is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. In January 1916 he serves as a courier for political activist and revolutionary leader Seán Mac Diarmada. By the time of the Easter Rising that year, he is deputy commanding officer of the 1st Dublin Battalion. In an audio recording to which he contributes in 1958, he details his experience in the Rising, describing the rebels assembling before noon in Blackhall Street at battalion headquarters. After midday they march out to the Four Courts, erecting barricades as they do so. The Four Courts is his main station.

In the audio, Béaslaí recalls a green flag with a gold harp in the centre. This is the non-Sinn Féin flag at the time. He is in direct charge of the Four Courts area, and at one point during the fight he orders a complete blackout. He recalls, “things were going badly for the English soldiers” and describes the whole event as “a weird experience.” He remembers the streets being lit up with fires in the darkness as if it were bright as day. He speaks of the intensity of the firing line and then how it suddenly ceases on the Friday. He remembers falling asleep and when he awakens being presented with Patrick Pearse‘s order to surrender. The rebels are brought to Richmond Barracks. He then spends fifteen months in English prisons.

Béaslaí serves three years of penal servitude divided between a stringent HM Prison Portland and a more lenient HM Prison Lewes. He is then imprisoned two times within four months during 1919, both terms ending in celebrated escapes. After his final prison release, Michael Collins approaches him about editing An tOglach, the Irish Volunteer newspaper. This sees communication between GHQ and local volunteers drastically improve.

Later, Béaslaí becomes director of publicity for the Irish Republican Army, and at the 1918 Irish general election he is elected to the First Dáil as Sinn Féin MP for East Kerry. Sinn Féin MPs elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and instead assemble the following January at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament, Dáil Éireann. Béaslaí is noted for his translation of the democratic programme of the First Dáil, which he reads aloud at the inaugural sitting.

Béaslaí is a member of the Sinn Féin party for five years. Between 1919 and 1921 he represents the East Kerry constituency in the First Dáil. Then, at the 1921 Irish elections, he is returned unopposed to the Second Dáil as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for Kerry–Limerick West. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he is re-elected there unopposed at the 1922 Irish general election as a pro-Treaty Sinn Féin candidate, and is thus a member of the Third Dáil, which is Pro-Treaty at this stage. In 1922 he goes to the United States to explain the Treaty to Sinn Féin’s Irish American supporters. He does not contest the 1923 Irish general election.

Béaslaí and Con Collins share the distinction of having been elected in three Irish general elections unopposed by any other candidates.

During Béaslaí’s time in London, he gives a lot of his time to the Gaelic League. In the Keating branch of the league, in Ireland, he develops an interest in the IRB. Cathal Brugha, a branch member, asks him to join the IRB. The Keating branch is where Béaslaí meets Michael Collins, eventually introducing Collins to his cousin and fellow branch member, Elizabeth Mernin. He is also instrumental in establishing An Fáinne, an Irish-speaking league whose members vow to speak solely Irish among themselves and wear a membership badge of a circle. This coincides with his involvement in the IRB. His love of the Irish language gives him an opportunity to delve into his other hobbies. He writes for Banba, an Irish journal published by the Gaelic League. He is able to express his love for theatre, in the Gaelic League, forming a group of men called “Na hAisteoirí.”

Béaslaí dies, unmarried, at the age of 84 on June 22, 1965, in a nursing home in Dublin. He is buried in a plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, after a Requiem Mass in St. Columba’s Church, Iona Road, Glasnevin.


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Birth of Poet Michael Hartnett

Michael Hartnett, Irish poet who writes in both English and Irish, is born in Croom Hospital in Croom, County Limerick, on September 18, 1941. He is one of the most significant voices in late 20th-century Irish writing and has been called “Munster‘s de facto poet laureate.”

Although Hartnett’s parents’ name is Harnett, he is registered in error as Hartnett on his birth certificate. In later life he declines to change this as his legal name is closer to the Irish Ó hAirtnéide. He grows up in the Maiden Street area of Newcastle West, County Limerick, spending much of his time with his grandmother, Bridget Halpin, who resides in the townland of Camas, in the countryside nearby. He claims that his grandmother is one of the last native speakers to live in County Limerick, though she is originally from northern County Kerry. Although she speaks to him mainly in English, he listens to her conversing with her friends in Irish, and as such, he is quite unaware of the imbalances between English and Irish. When he begins school, he is made aware of the tensions between both languages, and is surprised to discover that Irish is considered an endangered language, taught as a contrived, rule-laden code, with little of the literary attraction which it holds for him. He is educated in the local national and secondary schools in Newcastle West. He emigrates to England the day after he finishes his secondary education and goes to work as a tea boy on a building site in London.

Hartnett has started writing by this time and his work comes to be known of the poet John Jordan, who is professor of English at University College Dublin. Jordan invites him to attend the university for a year. While back in Dublin, he co-edits the literary magazine Arena with James Liddy. He also works as curator of James Joyce‘s tower at Sandycove for a time. He returns briefly to London, where he meets Rosemary Grantley on May 16, 1965, and they are married on April 4, 1966. His first book, Anatomy of a Cliché, is published by Poetry Ireland in 1968 to critical acclaim and he returns to live permanently in Dublin that same year.

Hartnett works as a night telephonist at the telephone exchange on Exchequer Street. He now enters a productive relationship with New Writers Press, run by Michael Smith and Trevor Joyce. They publish his next three books. The first of these is a translation from the Irish, The Old Hag of Beare (1969), followed by Selected Poems (1970) and Tao (1972). This last book is a version of the Chinese Tao Te Ching. His Gypsy Ballads (1973), a translation of the Romancero Gitano of Federico García Lorca, is published by the Goldsmith Press.

In 1974 Hartnett decides to leave Dublin and return to his rural roots, as well as deepen his relationship with the Irish language. He goes to live in Templeglantine, five miles from Newcastle West, and works for a time as a lecturer in creative writing at Thomond College of Education, Limerick.

In his 1975 book, A Farewell to English, Hartnett declares his intention to write only in Irish in the future, describing English as “the perfect language to sell pigs in.” A number of volumes in Irish follow including Adharca Broic (1978), An Phurgóid (1983) and Do Nuala: Foighne Chrainn (1984). A biography on this period of his life entitled A Rebel Act Michael Hartnett’s Farewell To English by Pat Walsh is published in 2012 by Mercier Press.

In 1984 Hartnett returns to Dublin to live in the suburb of Inchicore. The following year marks his return to English with the publication of Inchicore Haiku, a book that deals with the turbulent events in his personal life over the previous few years. This is followed by a number of books in English including A Necklace of Wrens (1987), Poems to Younger Women (1989) and The Killing of Dreams (1992).

Hartnett also continues working in Irish, and produces a sequence of important volumes of translation of classic works into English. These include Ó Bruadair, Selected Poems of Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (1985) and Ó Rathaille The Poems of Aodhaghán Ó Rathaille (1999). His Collected Poems appear in two volumes in 1984 and 1987 and New and Selected Poems in 1995.

Hartnett dies from Alcoholic Liver Syndrome on October 13, 1999. A new Collected Poems appears in 2001.

Every April a literary and arts festival is held in Newcastle West in honour of Hartnett. Events are organised throughout the town and a memorial lecture is given by a distinguished guest. Former speakers include Nuala O’Faolain, Paul Durcan, David Whyte and Fintan O’Toole. The annual Michael Hartnett Poetry Award of € 4,000 also forms part of the festival. Funded by the Limerick City and County Council Arts Office and the Arts Council of Ireland, it is intended to support and encourage poets in the furtherance of their writing endeavours. Previous winners include Sinéad Morrissey and Peter Sirr.

During the 2011 Éigse, Paul Durcan unveils a bronze life-sized statue of Hartnett sculpted by Rory Breslin, in the Square, Newcastle West. Hartnett’s son Niall speaks at the unveiling ceremony.


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Birth of Sophie Mary Peirce-Evans, Irish Aviator

lady-heathSophie Mary Peirce-Evans, Lady Heath, Irish aviator, is born on November 10, 1896 in Knockaderry, County Limerick, near the town of Newcastle West. She is one of the best known women in the world for a five-year period from the mid-1920s.

When Peirce-Evans is one year old, her father, John Peirce-Evans, bludgeons her mother, Kate Theresa Dooling, to death with a heavy stick. He is found guilty of murder and declared insane. She is taken to the home of her grandfather in Newcastle West where she is brought up by two maiden aunts, who discourage her passion for sports.

After schooldays in Rochelle School in Cork, Princess Garden Belfast and St. Margaret’s Hall on Mespil Road in Dublin, where she plays hockey and tennis, Peirce-Evans enrolls in the Royal College of Science for Ireland. The college is designed to produce the educated farmers which the country then needs. One of the few women in the college, she duly takes a top-class degree in science, specialising in agriculture. She also plays with the college hockey team and contributes to a student magazine, copies of which are held in the National Library of Ireland.

Before becoming a pilot, Peirce-Evans has already made her mark. She spends two years as a dispatch rider during World War I, based in England and later France. By that time, she has married the first of her three husbands, Major William Elliot Lynn, and, as Sophie Mary Eliott-Lynn, is one of the founders of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association after her move to London in 1922. She is Britain’s first women’s javelin champion and sets a disputed world record for the high jump. Alleging cruelty, her marriage to Elliot Lynn ends in divorce.

In 1925, Elliot-Lynn takes her first flying lessons and two years later becomes the first woman to hold a commercial flying licence in Britain. Along the way, she set records for altitude in a small plane and later a Shorts seaplane and is the first woman to parachute from an aeroplane.

In an era when the world has gone aviation-mad due to the exploits of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, Elliot-Lynn is more than able to hold her own. “Britain’s Lady Lindy,” as she is known in the United States, makes front-page news as the first pilot, male or female, to fly a small open-cockpit aircraft from Cape Town to London. A scale model of the plane is on display at The Little Museum of Dublin. She writes about the experience later in the book Woman and Flying, which she co-authors with Stella Wolfe Murray. After her great flight from the Cape, she takes a mechanic’s qualification in the United States, the first woman to do so.

On October 11, 1927, Peirce-Evans marries Sir James Heath at Christ Church in Mayfair, London, and assumes the title Lady Heath. In July 1928, she spends a few weeks volunteering as a co-pilot with a civil airline, KLM. She is hoping to be appointed to the newly created Batavia route, which would make her the first female pilot with a commercial airline. The world is not ready for female pilots and her hope is not fulfilled.

In 1929, just when her fame is at its height, with her life a constant whirl of lectures, races and long-distance flights, Lady Heath is badly injured in a crash just before the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. Before the accident Lady Heath applies for American citizenship, intending to remain in the United States where she has made a good living on the lecture circuit and as an agent for Cirrus engines. She is never the same after her accident.

Lady Heath divorces Sir James Heath in Reno, Nevada in January 1930. On 12 November 12, 1931 in Lexington, Kentucky, she marries G.A.R Williams, a horseman and pilot of Caribbean origin. They return to Ireland and she becomes involved in private aviation, briefly running her own company at Kildonan, near Dublin in the mid-1930s, and helping produce the generation of pilots that would help establish the national airline Aer Lingus.

Lady Heath dies in St Leonard’s Hospital, Shoreditch, London on May 9, 1939, following a fall inside a double-decker tram. Although alcoholism had been a problem in previous years, a pathologist finds no evidence of alcohol but detailed evidence of an old blood clot which might have caused the fall. On May 15, 1939, according to newspaper reports, her ashes are scattered over Surrey from an aircraft flown by her estranged husband although legend has it that her ashes are returned to Ireland where they are scattered over her native Newcastle West.